This isn’t the first time I’ve written about my village, but I think that it might be the first time I’m introducing you to Lunch Lady Bob. When I first wrote this piece, I lost track of it for a while and then I felt like it didn’t do him justice when it finally resurfaced. But I want you to know about his home in Happy Canyon and how it (and the people there) sustain me. Then I remembered: they also sustain Nikki, who also sustains me. It’s either symbiotic or co-dependent, depending on how you look at it. So, instead of fleshing out my own piece, I decided to outsource my work and challenge Nikki to write about it as well to see how our experiences compare. Turns out that my assertion last week about my problems not being the only important ones is supported 100% by what she wrote. Oh, how I love being right. Below, our two perspectives on one very special place. Do you have a place like Happy Canyon in your life? A Cheers, or a Central Perk? A third place where you go to re-center yourself? Is it here in our Upper Valley? I’d love to know.
Every other Monday, I gather with some dear friends in a place in Brownsville called Happy Canyon to eat, drink, watch mindless TV, and play darts. We start in the kitchen and we eat something amazing that Bob has cooked for us. He spent several years being Windsor’s “lunch lady,” getting to know the likes and needs of the people he fed. Now, it’s us; Bob knows what we like and what we hate. He spends his day off planning a meal, buying the stuff to make it from scratch, and cooking with a smile on his face. If we try to help, we’re shooed to the other side of the island until he’s ready to serve it up with a spring in his step. Everything is so good. You can almost literally taste the love.
After dinner, we move to the basement, drinks in hand, for darts and a mindless episode of “The Bachelor” or “Dancing With The Stars”. When the show starts, it’s Owen on a barstool, positioned to sneak out at the first commercial break; Nikki and me on a dorm-room-throwback futon; and Bob in his special recliner. His is the ideal seat… super comfy, with a tray for his drink and a perfect view of the TV. Ever since my diagnosis though, he’s insisted that I sit in the Good Chair. He makes me tea and lets my under-exercised dog out to run with his pup, Rosie, while Nikki and I crack dumb jokes and laugh hysterically at our comic genius. (Bob has since added a wonderful girlfriend and changed to a much more comfortable couch, but the important elements of the experience remain.)
When you’re stuck with cancer – fighting the nausea, dizziness, and fatigue; working so hard to chew just enough food to get you through the day – you’re almost never comfortable. I get sad that having a cocktail isn’t enjoyable anymore and cranky that sometimes it hurts to drink cold stuff, so I can’t even have a Coke. But in spite of all of the awful feelings, what I feel most when I’m in Happy Canyon is that precious and rare comfort that only the best of friends can offer.
Parenting can be a lonely endeavor. Parenting without a partner is lonely-on-steroids. If we're lucky we take the parenting journey alongside good friends. This can make all the difference. When I got divorced my friends stepped up in countless ways. Teresa brought groceries, Barb had my back at every turn, Susan lent an ear over and over, Kerry empathized.
I got divorced less than a year after Kerry did. We bonded. And then we synced our custody schedules because, well, because we're smart. This gave us the same weekends and every other Monday without kids. We went to movies, we frequented bars, we flirted with men, we sowed our oats. And it was good. Somewhere along the line we met lunch lady Bob. Single like us, frequenting local bars like us, it seemed that one of us could date him, SHOULD date him. I think we both knew from the beginning, though, that what Lunch Lady Bob had in store for us was much bigger than dating. He would change both of our lives.
I'll never forget the first time the lunch lady invited us to his house for dinner. Just the three of us. Kerry and I drove to what would become the most important of places for us over the years, Happy Canyon. Bob set the table and he cooked for us. It honestly had not occurred to me that a man would do that just out of the kindness of his heart. But he did, and it was good. Very good. We soon latched onto the idea that every other Monday the three of us would get together for dinner at one of our houses. I hosted one time and I think Kerry hosted one time too, but it quickly became apparent that Happy Canyon was where we belonged. We cast to the wayside the fleeting idea that we would each contribute to these dinners in time, effort, and money. So for nearly 5 years now, every other Monday, we drive to the Canyon and the lunch lady cooks us a meal. Bob is a fantastic cook, taking full advantage of all that he learned growing up in an Italian family but it's more than that. What he has given to us is a safe haven, a place to go to get away from it all, a place to go where we are loved unconditionally and a place where, for a few short hours twice a month, we are taken care of.
What Bob has given us over the years is a sense of place. He indulges us and watches Dancing With The Stars and The Bachelor. When one season of those shows has ended and before the next one begins he forces us to indulge him and he makes us watch terrible, crude movies starring Sasha Barron Cohen. I hate the movies but I love how much they make Bob laugh. We all indulge each other because all that matters is that we are together. Bob is happiness and joy and security and warmth. He is the best hug and a big old Italian kiss on the lips. Bob is pure unadulterated love. It is a love among friends that has carried me through many difficult weeks. It is a love and friendship that will carry me through even more difficult times in the future.
Bob, and Happy Canyon, feel like home. I could not do this whole parenting thing, this whole *life* thing without them.